Congressman Raul Ruiz honored those who fought for country during the third annual Veterans University at Agua Caliente Casino.
Ronnie Imel served as an airborne ranger during Vietnam, and he was among the hundreds of veterans learning about their benefits.
Imel said, "It’s probably the only process in the 27 years that I’ve been involved in this where a congressman is reaching out to hundreds of veterans."
Ruiz said he started the event from requests from the desert’s veteran community. Ruiz said, "We have people that have been here every Veterans University because they always learn something new."
He said bureaucratic "red tape" keeps many veterans from getting their benefits. Ruiz said Veterans University informs people of health care and employment services, a topic that hits home for him.
"I have uncles who served in Vietnam who told me their stories, and hardships and I was there with them in a trailer home or low income housing," Ruiz said.
"I was with them through all their struggles."
A struggle Imel knows too well.
He is an advocate for veterans because, "I went through the process myself being a disabled veteran and found out how arduous it was and how difficult it was and I swore that I would help veterans the rest of my life."
And according to the director of Riverside County Veteran Services, Grant Gautsche, not event half of the veterans in the county are using their earned benefits.
Gautsche said, "Just over 450,000 veterans and dependent survivors in the county but usage rates for benefits is only about 26.1%"
Imel believes the low number of benefit recipients is due to lack of VSO personnel. Instead, he is filling-in the the missing pieces.
Imel said, "There are plenty of people that do advocacy work without being paid for, I am one of them, I do a lot of claims and I am not a VSO they need to expand that process."